New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has moved to end the Bledisloe Cup stand-off by relaxing the country’s quarantine restrictions for the Wallabies.
The annual trans-Tasman series was again thrust into uncertainty on Sunday when Wallabies coach Dave Rennie said the current quarantine restrictions in New Zealand were unacceptable for his team to be able to prepare properly for the opening Test, which New Zealand Rugby had earmarked for Oct. 10.
Rennie said there would be no way the Wallabies would be playing a Test on that date, and were instead pushing for Bledisloe I to be played a week later on Oct. 17.
“New Zealand Rugby’s got an expectation that we jump on a plane a day after the Super Rugby final (Sept. 19), have two weeks in quarantine where we can’t prepare as a team and play a Test seven days later,” Rennie said.
“Under those quarantine arrangements, I can assure you we won’t be playing a Test that weekend (Oct. 10).”
Reports on Monday night suggested Rugby Australia had presented their New Zealand counterparts with three Bledisloe Cup options; to push the back-to-back Tests to Oct. 17 and 24; bring both of the Tests across to Australia where quarantine restrictions have already been adjusted for sporting teams; or to play just one Test on New Zealand soil on Oct. 17.
Clearly sensing the urgency of the situation, and to ensure New Zealanders saw the All Blacks play on home soil at least once this year, Prime Minister Ardern revealed she had on Monday night phoned Australia counterpart Scott Morrison to confirm the Wallabies would be given expedited return-to-training protocols amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We just want to make sure that, you know, we go there and they go here and it is a fair arrangement …there is no reason for them not to come,” she told Newstalk ZB. “Given the risk profile for Australians, it is very different to some of the teams we were talking about as part of the SANZAAR [Rugby Championship] tournament.
“The director general of health has already said ‘look, training can happen after three days – full squads at six’.
“Pretty flexible arrangement there, and given that they will be coming straight off the back of another competition [Super Rugby AU] I imagine they would want a few rest days anyway.
“So, quarantine shouldn’t be an issue. We just want to make sure we go there and we go there and it is a fair arrangement.”
Rennie was unable to confirm the Wallabies’ travel schedule when speaking to media on Sunday, saying team management would be working furiously this week to finalise the team’s planning.
But the 44-man squad is expected to gather in Sydney next Monday, potentially departing for New Zealand either on Tuesday or Wednesday thereafter.
If the Wallabies were to enter New Zealand quarantine on Wednesday, they could possibly be training as a complete unit on Sep. 29, giving them 10 full days’ preparation for a Test on Oct. 10.
However, it is clear that Rennie’s preference was for the opening Test to be played the following week, suggesting there is still some negotiating to happen on both sides of the Tasman.
ESPN has contacted Rugby Australia for comment.